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David Wailing (London, UK)

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FAG
FAG
Price: 1.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important, challenging work from a powerful author, 29 Jun 2014
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This review is from: FAG (Kindle Edition)
There is nothing wrong with a book designed purely for entertainment, but every so often you read one that really means something as well. This is one of those books. It's important.

Set in a boys boarding school in 1930s England, this novel looks at the institutionalised bullying that the hierarchies of boarding schools promote. Almost from the start there is an atmosphere of tremendous oppression that affects teachers and pupils alike. But as the story develops, it becomes clear that bullying can take on many forms - involving class, status, age, gender and more.

Jonathan Hill's writing, already at a high standard with his Maureen stories, evolves here in unexpected ways. He adopts a semi-poetical style, with a lot of rich metaphor and simile throughout. This is beautifully apt since much of the book dances around the whole issue of homosexuality, using the same balletic moves as the characters. This is clearly an author developing his powers by reaching deep within himself.

Sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes tragic, but always spellbinding, here we have a book that deserves to be read by everyone. Not just by those looking for entertainment, but by those who also need to be challenged, and perhaps even changed. This is a novel that makes you think about your own prejudices and how they can hurt people far more than your fists ever could.


21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects (and Other Stuff)
21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects (and Other Stuff)
Price: 2.48

4.0 out of 5 stars An exhibition of cultural artefacts from simpler times, 9 April 2014
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If you want to feel prehistoric while simultaneously reliving the joys of your childhood, this book is for you! That's assuming that you were around in the 1970s and 1980s, otherwise much of 21st Century Dodos will feel inexplicably bizarre.

Steve Stack has assembled a collection of things that are either now extinct or rarely seen these days. These aren't just limited to gadgets, foodstuffs or TV adverts they don't make any more, but also include activities, ways of doing things and even concepts. So alongside entries for 'Rotary Dial Telephones', 'Candy Cigarettes' and 'Humphreys' you will also find 'Mixtapes', 'Half-day Closing' and 'Waiting Ages for American Films to Come Out'.

Many of these really struck a chord with me and brought back some detailed memories. 'Loading Computer Games from Tape' - how many hours were lost watching my Commodore 64 upload a simple game from cassette? 'One Phone in the Home' - the awkwardness of gossiping to your mates with your Mum pretending not to eavesdrop! 'Calculator Watches' - I owned a digital watch that you could play Pac-man on which made me the most popular kid in school for about five hours!

There is some genuine research into many of these, alongside the author's own personal reminiscences. 'Nuns' made me laugh while also realising he was right - you really don't see them as often as you used to. And his entry for 'Handwritten Letters' is a gem.

Steve writes with a light touch and plenty of humour, but also a strong observational slant. He doesn't claim that the past is better than the present, as you might expect such a nostalgic book to do, but isn't afraid to state where he feels the modern world has gone astray. There are some mild but insightful commentaries on heavyweight topics such as corporal punishment and over-protectiveness towards children. These add a little Weetabix crunchiness to balance out all the Woolworths pick'n'mix sweetness.

This is a funny, thoughtful romp through yesteryear that really highlights how much life has changed in the last few decades.


Ravenfold
Ravenfold
Price: 1.60

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A darkly entertaining tale of medieval times, 9 April 2014
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This review is from: Ravenfold (Kindle Edition)
This is an engaging and confident first book from a natural storyteller. Kath Middleton was already well-known as a reviewer of fiction and a champion of indie authors everywhere, but now it seems she's going to successfully carve a new career as an author herself!

Ravenfold is a tale of families, power and revenge, set in medieval England. This is portrayed with just enough detail to feel authentic, although the focus is less on history and more on the characters. When young Romelda is forcibly married to the monstrous Lord Oswald, her life and those of her parents and friends are twisted out of shape forever. The story takes some surprising dramatic turns along the way, incorporating what may even be shades of the supernatural.

The structure resembles a children's fable, with a framing story of a man relating Romelda's tale as a bedtime story to his grandchildren. But this is actually a very adult book, including some strong scenes that do not shy away from depicting the brutality of medieval life. Kath handles these with a light touch but paints some gruesome pictures in the imagination. There is also plenty of gallows humour that had me chuckling aloud, but is most definitely not for young readers!

Ravenfold is a darkly entertaining tale that promises even greater stories from this author in the future.


100 One Hundred Word Tales
100 One Hundred Word Tales
Price: 1.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A ton of lightweight tales from a heavyweight storyteller, 26 Mar 2014
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One of the modern masters of the drabble format, Jonathan Hill gives us a hundred original stories of precisely one hundred words each. This collection shows off a huge amount of creativity, imagination and mischievous wordplay, with drabbles across a range of genres from comedy to tragedy.

It's tempting to sit down and consume this book in one go, as each drabble is so quick and easy to read. But many of them are subtle and require digestion, while others deserve to linger in your mind for a while, rather than being blown away by the next great little tale.

Although each works as a standalone, some are part of mini-arcs such as 'The History of Art Revealed' and 'Stage Debut' that give them a common theme. There is also a moving mini-story told in multiple drabbles portraying the life of a man named Miles, plus of course Jonathan's hit character Maureen pops up a few times, as hopelessly funny as ever! The author also manages to guest-star a few times, making fun of himself and his addiction to writing drabbles.

This is a highly recommended book to read in-between longer novels, and may even inspire you to try writing a 100-word story yourself. But be warned: Jonathan makes it look a lot easier than it really is!


The Scream of Angels
The Scream of Angels
Price: 0.77

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An accomplishment of atrocity, angels and abandonment, 26 Mar 2014
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If the individual tales in The Macabre Collection (Box set) were episodes of a TV show, then The Scream of Angels would be a big-budget feature film version. David Haynes's talent for Victorian horror fiction reaches new peaks (or perhaps depths) with this novel. He tells a grander story of mysteries and histories, without losing any of his attention to monstrous detail.

The great triumph of this book is how well the atmosphere of turn of the century Paris is evoked, in all its splendour and barbarism. It really doesn't feel as if it was written in the 21st Century, which is an achievement. The characters all retain the formality of those times, especially in their speech, which does sometimes make it feel a little stilted like a Shakespearian play. But there's no denying that they are believable as they confront demons both within and without. This is a story that does not shy away from showing the worst of humanity.

This is definitely recommended as a genuine spine-chiller, head-scratcher and stomach-turner of a book!


Seesaw - Volume II
Seesaw - Volume II
Price: 1.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another high quality collection of laughs, tears and superb writing, 27 Oct 2013
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Whether or not you've read the previous volume of Seesaw, or have even heard of Rosen Trevithick, this book is a must if you appreciate quality writing.

I have already read and reviewed the two novellas - The Ice Marathon and My Granny Writes Erotica - which each represent the psychological drama and bawdy comedy that Rosen writes so well. But it's the other stories exclusive to Seesaw II which demonstrate her versatility in capturing a full spectrum of emotions.

A Stormy Afternoon in Falmouth Harbour is enough to make a hydrophobe of anyone. As someone with a lifelong fear of drowning, I read this in a state of anxiety, so well-drawn and gripping was the story.

The Other Father is a double-barrelled story, telling a tale of estranged fathers from two very different angles: one for adults, that touches of very current modern fears, and one for children, which includes the Smelly Trolls that have proven so popular with kids of all ages (and never-grown-ups!).

The five short episodes from one character's life that start with All Grown Up are beautifully crafted jewels, easily good enough be published all together as one excellent story. Each one captures a different time of life perfectly, with many laugh-out-loud observations that everyone will find sympathy with.

Finally, What Crazy Looks Like is heartfelt, humbling, courageous genius. After reading this, you'll think twice about laughing at 'mad' people ever again.

If you're someone who has preconceived notions that indie authors are anything less than professional or high quality, this excellent book will blow them out of the water. Rosen Trevithick shows us all how it's done.


The Travel Auction
The Travel Auction
Price: 1.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A funny and fast-moving romantic adventure, 26 Oct 2013
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After dumping his cheating girlfriend, Jonathan advertises on eBay for a new travel companion on his three month journey around South America. The only catch being that to use the flight tickets, the new girl must have the same name as his ex!

The initial premise of The Travel Auction is so strong that you expect the rest of the novel to inevitably drop in quality. So it's wonderful to be able to say this is a book that remains as exciting and readable from start to finish.

The characterisation of Jonathan and 'Kate Thornly the 2nd' drives this story, particluarly the will-they-won't-they romantic undertones of all the crazy escapades they get involved with. Mark Green's writing is deceptively straight-forward and the story rattles along at the perfect pace. He reserves his long-winded descriptions for those scenes where the beauty of South America is being specifically described, and otherwise keeps his writing refreshingly to the point.

This is an entertaining and amusing read that never outstays its welcome.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 26, 2013 10:27 PM BST


Caves of Steel (The Robot Series)
Caves of Steel (The Robot Series)
Price: 2.91

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A far-future detective yarn packed with solid SF ideas, 10 Sep 2013
After reading The Naked Sun, I was keen to read the very first book featuring future detective Elijah Baley and his robot partner Daneel. Fortunately both novels are self-contained stories so can be enjoyed independently.

The Caves of Steel is the first full-length novel Isaac Asimov wrote featuring the famous Three Laws of Robotics which he established in a series of short stories in the 1940s and 1950s. He portrays a detailed vision of an Earth where the vast population live within colossal underground Cities, while the superior 'Spacers' have colonised other worlds and mostly shun their more Earthbound ancestors, treating them as primitives.

Asimov's brilliant exploration of robotics is well-known, but this novel is a surprisingly incisive look at sociology too. It's easy to imagine the way of life within the Cities, based on our own overpopulated world, including the secret Medievalist groups who want a return to life outdoors. There's also a witty mention of C/Fe culture - C for carbon-based life (humans), Fe for iron (robots). It's hard not to hear C/Fe as 'sci-fi', at a time when the term was something of a dirty word!

Elijah Baley is an appealing central character, a classic headstrong detective whose emotions sometimes get the better of his deductive skills. The calm logic of the first humaniform robot, Daneel, makes a wonderful counterpoint as their relationship gradually crosses the anti-robot prejudice barrier and proves effective. It's easy to imagine that these characters formed the basis for Star Trek's Kirk and Spock, invented a decade later.

At the heart of this book is a detective story, involving murders, clues, suspicious behaviour, chases, fights and old-fashioned investigation. Asimov's genius is to tell this tale while also imagining the far future and incorporating some solid science fiction concepts. Despite the writing style now being a little old-fashioned, The Caves of Steel still stands as a classic story that can be enjoyed today.


Doctor Who: Shada
Doctor Who: Shada
Price: 2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Milk? One lump or two? Sugar?, 10 Sep 2013
This review is from: Doctor Who: Shada (Kindle Edition)
Douglas Adams was famous for missing his deadlines in a spectacular fashion. So it's somehow fitting that this novelisation of his scripts for a Doctor Who story should be published 12 years after his death. Late again, Douglas!

For those unfamiliar with the history behind Shada: in 1979, Douglas Adams was script editor on Doctor Who, during the same period that The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy was taking off on radio. So it's unsurprising to find that his TV scripts channel the same brilliant combination of science fiction, humour, wordplay and outrageous ideas. Shada is as much classic Douglas Adams as it is classic Tom Baker-era Doctor Who.

There are two reasons why Shada in particular is unusual. First, it's the only Doctor Who adventure that was cancelled during production - it never made it to the screen. Second, although all other Doctor Who episodes have been novelised, Douglas refused to do so with his stories (mainly because nobody ever offered to pay him the going rate for a bestselling author!). Anyone who has read his novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency will recognise several ideas from Shada, recycled because he assumed they would never otherwise see print.

So here comes Gareth Roberts to correct that, combining his own style with Douglas's to bring Shada into the 21st Century. Rather than just a straight transcription of the TV scripts, this is a highly inventive and imaginative novel that isn't afraid of straying from the course. Minor characters Chris and Claire now gain a comedic full-blown romance, and we get to see the battle to prevent an ancient Time Lord book from falling into evil hands from Chris's perspective, making him much more of an Arthur Dent-style everyman hero than the TV episodes would have done.

I was initially wary of this book, fearing that it might fall between the gaps of its ambitions. But apart from a few niggles, I thoroughly enjoyed it and believe it successfully achieves all of its goals. For Douglas Adams fans, it is written appealingly close to his style without being a soulless copy. For Doctor Who enthusiasts, it retells an old story with the right mix of nostalgia and modernity (there are perhaps a few too many continuity nods to the current TV series, but Who fans tend to love that sort of thing). And for everyone else, it rattles out a rollicking, silly, enjoyable yarn that is more humour than sci-fi.


My Granny Writes Erotica (The Original Quickie)
My Granny Writes Erotica (The Original Quickie)
Price: 1.53

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Witty, filthy and outrageous comedy hits the spot!, 17 Aug 2013
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For anyone who's ever found erotic fiction funny, My Granny Writes Erotica will have you rocking back and forth in open-mouthed pleasure.

Pensioner Betty needs to make a lot of money quick, to support her family without letting them realise just how bad things are financially. A life-long frustrated writer who's been working on the same romantic novel for 20 years, she can't rely on her book sales. Unless she's selling the sort of filthy, pornographic smut that everyone - even her own daughter - seems compelled to read these days...

There's an enormous amount to enjoy in watching an elderly, naive woman struggle to cope with the full-on perversions that are so acceptable in erotica. Betty's scenes with the appropriately-named Scarlett are especially good, where she gains an education in titillation. And I'll be amazed if Google doesn't start getting searches for My Ickle Pony Tail(tm) from more than a few readers...

Personally, if this novella had been twice as long I would have continued to enjoy it, and if anything its brevity is my only complaint. As Scarlett would no doubt tell us, bigger and thicker is always better. Especially with Rosen Trevithick's books!


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